On May 16th Hahn Estates will host the 3rd Annual Santa Lucia Highland (SLH) Gala, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., an event put together by the Wine Artisans of the SLH, an association of growers and producers from the AVA. An excellent account of the district, written by Laurie Daniel of the always reliable Appellation America, provides solid information on the AVA and is required reading for a proper introduction to this interesting growing region.
This year’s event differs from last year’s in three important ways. The venue is the grounds of Hahn Estates rather than the associated wineries themselves. The last time I was up there I had a particularly good time. The grounds enjoy a commanding view of the Salinas Valley below, there is an expansive outside deck, plenty of seating area, and a very playful staff.
The second difference is of the wines that will be poured. We are told that “…sample limited release gems and hard-to-get vintages” will be available for tasting. One ambiguity I discovered is whether the wines will be exclusively those of the wineries in the SLH AVA. In a recent press release it is written that there will also be wines from “wineries that rely on the district’s world-class fruit”. So it may well be there will be available efforts from far flung wineries who source from the area, a big plus for those of us interested not only in terroir but in winemaking styles.
The third distinction in the cost: $85. I do hope this does not dissuade too many from attending. It is not an unreasonable price for the value offered, but a risk these days. I would like that the event were a couple hours longer, perhaps starting at 12.
Among the wineries attending (from the press release linked above): “Belle Glos, Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Cru, Hahn, La Rochelle, Lucienne, Manzoni, Martin Alfaro, Mer Soleil, McIntyre, Morgan, Novy, Parasio, Pelerin, Pessagno, Pisoni, Puma Road, Roar, Robert Talbott, Testarossa, Siduri, Six Strings, Tondre, and Tudor. Foghorn, Miura, and Wrath wineries will be making their first appearance as S.L.H. members.”
One quibble. The SLH website, on its history page, makes the following remark,
The earliest vinifera plantings, in what was to become the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, took place in the 1790s, with the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries and conquistadors.
My understanding is that it was on the grounds of Mission Soledad, on the Salinas Valley floor, where the original vines were planted. Inasmuch as the AVA begins at 40′ that would seem to exclude those historic plantings from inclusion. Further, the vines never produced well. Of the Mission itself, please do yourself a favor. Please visit. It is among the most forlorn, beautiful and historically interesting places I have ever seen.
The MSC Orchestra pulled in to the Port Of Fort Lauderdale Saturday. Three thousand passengers disembarked, among them 200 contented participants in what is promised to be but the first in a series of yearly Thunder Cruises planned by the Wine Library’s relentless, innovative Gary Vaynerchuk. It was, by any measure, a great success. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, it was the startling uniformity of opinions expressed by folks attending, to a person, that the last sentence of this high-seas tasting adventure be punctuated with an emphatic exclamation point.
Imagine the great uncertainty felt by many before we set sail. Imagine not knowing whether there were 10 or 100 fellow wine enthusiasts on board. Putting your life on hold for a week in these uncertain economic times and jumping on board a massive cruise ship, essentially lost to your familiar world, is no easy decision. For myself, such a cruise put me well outside of my comfort zone. I am used to instantaneous communication, the predictable rhythms of the neighborhood, the thousand and one reassuring repetitions of daily life. To decide to set that all aside for a week’s sailing with an internet personality simply promising a great time is not to be taken lightly.
And from Mr. Vaynerchuk’s perspective, with his track record of successful business insights, his multiple TV appearances, his knowing full well he is the face of WL, its brand, how great the downside should the cruise go bust? It takes a special kind of business savvy to put so much at risk, to make oneself so available to public scrutiny. And is it not true that in the blogoshere the knives are out for failure?
But all of these diverse concerns may be put to rest. The guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Mr. Vaynerchuk pulled it off with style and distinction.
The main event was the Grand Tasting, of course. There were other activities, however, offered earlier and throughout the week. He hosted a seminar titled Social Networking-Personal Branding in the Web 2.0 World, “Wine 101″ for beginners, naturally the seminar How To Monetize Your Content, a Food and Wine Paring exercise, How to Train Your Palate, and a very informative Q & A Session, and a Port Tasting, with or without cigars, two rooms were provided.
Each of the sessions were very well attended, though by different groups of people. And each session was opened for questions, perhaps the most productive part. Very fast on his feet, Mr. Vaynerchuk is quite attentive to detail, his knowledge, quite extensive, though it can be said he occasionally associates too closely his own personality with technological innovation.
As may be sensed, the activities addressed all levels of expertise and experience. But Mr. Vaynerchuk was especially sensitive to the learning curve of those new to wine or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, those who needed a push to taste outside their comfort zone. Indeed, when the Grand Tasting finally rolled around, the wine list for which I’ve already posted on this blog, apart from the Europeans and those from Latin America, the American wines, though well ‘hit’, were not the sole focus of the group. It must have been especially gratifying for Mr. Vaynerchuk to see so many at the Portuguese table, for example. (BTW, the wines of Portugal, in my opinion, were the stars of the evening. Those of Bordeaux, superb.)
A word about the Grand Tasting Wine list. Mr. Vaynerchuk’s selection method, it was explained to me, was to have contacted numerous distributors representing wineries from around the world. Provided they answered in a timely manner they were included. So, for example, South Africa was absent because of some mix up. There were other ‘holes’ in the list, as Mr. Vaynerchuk put it, that he promises to fix on subsequent international tastings. There was also the problem of a wine simply not showing up. A modest number went missing owing to vagaries in the chain of custody.
All in all it was a delightful cruise. It is important to remember the ports of call the ship made. Cayo Levantado, an island off the coast of the Dominican Republic, Philipsburg on St. Martin, Saint John and Nassau. Extremes of wealth and poverty were visible just beyond the heavy bands of touristic services and shops surrounding the docks. I explored many neighborhoods off the beaten path. I can tell you all is not well. For those interested in reading my daily reflections on island life and other matters please see a WL Forum thread set up for the cruise.
There are some conversations I wish could go on longer, that I hope readers here would want to go on as well. Such was my conversation with Will Bucklin. He speaks very deliberately, very quietly. You have to pay close attention. In this second and final part of my interview with him, he makes the effort of listening worthwhile. His farming practice is a fundamental part of winemaking and ought to afford valuable insight for the consumer into how the contents of the bottle ends up on their table. Winemaking is work ! A wine critic may describe a wine or a consumer may love a wine, but without a proper understanding of the labor also in the glass, the experience is necessarily incomplete. Will Bucklin is a farmer. No greater compliment may be paid to him.
Part 1 may be read here
Admin Could you explain the concept of ‘viticultura promiscua’?
Will Bucklin There is an interesting philosophy about vine diversity and everything else, biodiversity…, it’s an Italian philosophy called viticultura promiscua, it means promiscuous grape vines, and it translates roughly into ‘field blend’. But it means more than just ‘field blend’. It means everything that happens when you have a lot of interaction in the vineyard as opposed to a homogenous vineyard. I wish that I had more information on this; I’ve googled it to find out more. I’d like to find somebody who speaks Italian who could give me a better representation, but I think the underlying theory is that, yes, there is profound interaction and it is a good thing to have as much diversity as possible.
Indeed. A conversation I had with Jason Lett not too long ago he also speaks about this, though not specifically viticultura promiscua. It is a small miracle when there is balance in an organic vineyard. In time it finds its balance.
WB Definitely. It appears to me that it does. Now, we also farm flowers and vegetables. We farm them organically as well, although not certified. There are certain pests that are very difficult to manage for a particular crop. Grapes are more resilient than many, especially annual crops, for example, corn which has lots of insects that eat on them. So what that means is that you have to work harder. But in the vineyard… I’ve never farmed using any other paradigm. I don’t have a comparison point, which is kind of interesting. I’ve never farmed with conventional chemicals. I don’t know what that means. I have neighbors that do because I can see them do it. It’s always interesting to me why they have to spray and I don’t. Why would that be? Right next door….
As a gardener here I can vouch for that same odd experience. Next door they are always blasting away. Here we never need it. I know the diversity has something to do with it, that you don’t plant all your tomatoes in one spot, all your spinach in one spot…
WB I would also suggest two other things. One is being there, whether in the vineyard or the garden, making sure nothing is going wrong. I often say the best viticultural tool I got was a dog because I’m in the vineyard twice a day, I live on the vineyard so I’m in the vineyard with the dog, walking the dog twice a day. And of course, the other thing is that it may just be they don’t need it [conventional chemicals] but they do it because they’ve been told they need to. It may be that they do all this stuff they don’t really need to do. And organic farmer is in the vineyard or the farm much more than a conventional farmer is. That’s one of the big arguments for conventional farming. On a grand scale farmers used to work 20 hours a day. With the advent of herbicides and pesticides they were able to work less, and make more money. There was a lot of motivation to do that. But things have changed in the last 30 years.
What is your take on the rise of the modern wine critic establishment?
WB Well, I don’t know… should I be diplomatic? Nah! When I first started making wine on Old Hill I looked back at the ratings that the vineyard had gotten under the tutelage of Ravenswood when they started in 1983. The wine press, the notable wine press, which would be Parker and the Wine Spectator, were incredibly kind, maybe not kind, they were objective. They loved the wines over a decade. I don’t think there was a year in the 80s and 90s that it didn’t get above a 90 on the Parker scale. But that changed. I go back and taste those wines periodically, they still exist.
When I started making the wine off of the vineyard and I went back and did that research. Then I started buying wines that were rating really highly, the 93s and the 94s, I saw them as not being at all like the wines that were being rated highly back in the 1980s and 1990s. The new wines were much higher in alcohol and much sweeter. In fact, they were sweet whereas before they were dry. The reviewers changed. I’m sure of it. And I didn’t like those [new, highly rated] wines at all. In fact, I thought they were flawed. So I feel really strongly that has hurt the industry in many ways. I think there is a huge homogenization. I mean, people are all crazy about Greek wines right now because Greek wines don’t fit into the paradigm. They haven’t gone all berserk with barrels, sweetness and taking the terroir out of the wine and selling it as terroir-driven wine.
I would include many Portuguese wines as well.
WB Exactly! And it’s ridiculous, sorry I’m kind of passionate about this. When I started the business I wanted that 90 point wine because I knew that’s what was going to give us the legs in terms of the brand. I have submitted the wines and I didn’t get reviewed. And I realized that, at the time, the paradigm has really shifted in the last ten years. I think the current paradigm is, and I’m pleased about it, is the wine seller in the bottle shop. They are the person that has the biggest impact on your wine sales, although there’s still a huge influence by the wine press. But people that have neighborhood wine shops, who go in and talk to their wine seller, tell them what they want, and they start to communicate about wine, and they start to understand each other’s language, that’s your reviewer instead of going to look at the Wine Spectator for a 90 point score. So if I go into a wine store and I meet the wine seller and they understand the wine, they like it, that’s where we sell our wines.
I don’t do the tasting room thing. I don’t have the time or the inclination. It’s not how I want to spend my time. If there was somebody who wanted to do that, that would be fine. But not for me. I’d rather farm, grow grapes and make wine. That’s what I enjoy doing. I enjoy selling wing but not 24/7.
Yeah, I think the wine press has kind of screwed things up.
Do you have a solid subscriber base?
WB No, I don’t. I wouldn’t say it’s not solid but I don’t sell a huge amount of wine direct. Most of my wine is through the three-tier system. That’s what I’ve come to utilize. And that has it’s issues, of course, because your at the whim of your distributors. But using the mail-order thing is a fair amount of work. If somebody called me up and said “Hi. We’d like to come by for a tasting. How much does it cost?” I usually say ‘no’. If they call up and say they’ve heard about my vineyard, it sounds really intriguing. Could they come see it? I say ‘yes’.
If people are interested in what we do then I’m interested in sharing it with them. But I don’t want to try and sell them something. Does that make sense? It’s just not my forte. It doesn’t interest me to do that.
One of the reasons for this interview is that Dan Berger rhapsodized over your vineyard…
WB I like Dan a lot. I really appreciate him doing that. It is am amazing vineyard, that is the truth! If you ever get a chance, Ken, you should come and visit it. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen in California, it’s something very rare to find in California. There are a lot of things about it, its age, its health, dry farming, the organic, and the field blend, all play a role in its uniqueness. Unique doesn’t mean ‘good’. But it certainly means interesting on this level.
So when you do pick, how large is the crew, is it mechanical? How is the harvesting done?
WB Everything on a vineyard this old is done by hand. You can’t mechanize because it’s not the perfect, straight rows. One of the reasons people use trellises is to mechanize things. So, no, we don’t have trellises unless you count a stake as a trellis.
So it’s like the old California sprawl style?
WB Yeah, exactly; head-trained vines. Well, a sprawl vineyard technically, in my view, is a single wire. There is no wire in this vineyard. But I don’t know if that’s just me or a difference. Anyway, Zinfandel is very well-suited to head-training. When we develop vineyards we still do head-training on everything. The Cabernet vineyard is on what I would call a sprawl, it has a wire. But it has phylloxera in it, and as it gets replanted it’ll go on to head-training. As I learn how to do it, I enjoy it. Part of what I like about head-training is that you lose the uniformity, it’s very hard to have a uniform vineyard with head-training. Each vine has its own little propensity to grow its own direction. You’re not forcing it to grow up a trellis. You’re certainly forcing the vine to do things, but it give the vine a little bit more wabi-sabi, a little more character.
We’re doing a little Grenache block. We took out two acres of Cabernet. And I’m going to put it on the head-trained system, which is a little hard with Grenache because it’s very, very vigorous. But we’ve done it on a couple of rows by my house and it’s working. I’ve learned you learn how to do it. Hopefully I’ve learned how to do it. That’s the thing I like about my job: I’m still learning. Alot.
Well, thank you very much, Mr. Bucklin. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Besides everything…?
WB (laughs) I guess not.
How’s the bud-break look?
WB You know, it’s quite late, [4/12] very, very late. The Zin hasn’t pushed yet. It’s bizarre because it was such a warm Winter. But then it was a cool Spring. The vines always seem to know. When you start to think you have a sense of what they’re going to do, you’re wrong. I wonder if you could develop a computer model that would project when vines would push. I’d bet you that would be pretty hard to do. Maybe it’s Daylight Savings! They’re just adjusting for Daylight Savings.
Anyway, we had a little frost, and it’s nice we’ve had some rain, that usually moderates the night temperatures upwards so we lose the propensity for frost. Hopefully this active weather pattern will continue. I don’t think it’s going to rain, but we keep having a little cloud cover here and there and that lowers the possibility of frost. A good thing. I was really, really, really happy about the rain we had. Oh my god, that was so nice! I wish we would get a little bit more. It’s makes a big difference to dry farming.
You finally got some rain then?
WB We got about a half-inch, maybe three quarters of an inch. Last Spring, 2008, it was dry from March 1st on. It was the driest Spring on record. Remarkably, the old vines are amazing, they just weather it. They really did better last year than many irrigated vineyards. It was amazing. Every year I worry about the whole concept of dry farming and how it’s going to impact the vines. And then every year they weather the storm or lack of one. Every year I’ve become more convinced that [dry farming] is the way to go.
Is there an aquifer?
WB Well, no. There’s water but its probably 40 or 50 feet down. And definitely the aquifer has dropped in the last 20, 30 years as farmers started irrigating. It definitely changed. I think it is the soil itself, everything that we do farming-wise really is to help to help the soil retain moisture, like I said, slowing water down. We increase the organic matter, we’re doing everything we can to help the vines. They probably don’t need as much as I think they do. It’s my human condition to think that because they aren’t irrigated they will wither and die, when, in fact, they’re incredibly resilient. They have huge roots, tons of biomass underground compared to an irrigated vine.
We had a heat spell here in 2005. We had two days in a row where the temperatures maxed out at around 115 degrees, which is what I like to call ‘Iraqi’ hot, I mean, that’s just an unprecedented temperature in California. The old vines, their leaves lost their turgor, they basically looked like tissue paper hanging on the vines. Young vines that were being irrigated, it was that hot, stayed turgid. But at the end of the heat spell the leaves of the young vines had burned and the old vines came back and looked less scathed, less damaged than the young vines were.
I like to go on about how dry farming works. You get lower yields but I think it’s a pretty damn good way to go.
And it helps to enhance the soil structure and, in the absence of irrigation and mechanical harvesting, compaction is minimized.
WB Absolutely. There is nothing like a 120 years of farming to compact soil. That’s one of its challenges. It’s quite remarkable the way old vines and dry farming, and the field blend and the organic all work together and grow a pretty good grape.
And with irrigation you have mineral build up of one kind or another.
WB The mineral thing is a big deal. I’m just starting to think about it. With irrigation you’re adding some kind of minerals. We do quite a bit of mineralization of the soil. Whether or not it changes anything, I don’t know, or what it changes. It’s such a complex system that goes on underground.
So I added a bunch there!
Delightful, much to be preferred! I thank you again. You’ve been very generous with your time.
WB If you’re ever in the neighborhood stop by.
Yes, yes. Berger’s rhapsodizing makes it a ‘must see’!
WB I’d better call him! (laughs) He’s been around the block a few times. And with Appellation America, he’s trying to get consumers to move.
And his role as an educator, a teacher has made him very focussed, very economical in how he approaches a subject.
WB There are not too many people, I think, who have as clear a sense of history of California over the last 30 years than he does.
Well, thank you, again.
WB Take care.
The event has come yet again. Saturday, April 18th is 2009’s second Santa Cruz Mountains Passport Day. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. some of the finest wines of the region will be served. Only a portion of the AVA will be participating but that does not mean that other wineries will not be open and pouring. The participation of a winery only means that a Passport may be purchased on the premises and that a souvenir stamp may be affixed.
I have a few winery suggestions:
Ridge Vineyards is a great visit. I do not know what they shall be offering Saturday but it hardly matters. Their quality is across the board.
Next I would recommend Black Ridge Vineyards. Not only is it a beautiful vineyard and well situated as a first stop for visitors coming up to the Santa Cruz Mountains from the Santa Clara Valley, but at a recent tasting I found their 2006 San Andreas Red to be quite wonderful. It is a traditional Bordeaux blend, 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% of both Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Their 2006 Estate-grown Pinot Noir was also superb. I preferred it over their 2007. Whether they will be pouring any or all of these I cannot say. Couldn’t hurt to ask should one of the mentioned wines be absent!
I would also suggest Heart O’ The Mountain in Scotts Valley. The winery itself will be open for the first time. The house was formerly owned by Alfred Hitchcock from 1940 to 1974, and has enjoyed an interesting farming history.
When mapping out your winery itinerary be sure to check the latest updates from the websites of the participating wineries themselves. Many wineries are off the beaten path, tucked along small mountain roads, and it would be inconvenient to have to turn around should your destination be closed.
Will Bucklin is a young man with an old soul. Farming is in his blood. It is the California wine industry’s good fortune to have someone so well matched to a property, Old Hill Ranch. Among the oldest vineyards in Sonoma, the first in the area to have planted something other than the historically significant Mission grape, Old Hill Ranch is a rare survivor of a more interesting era of viticulture that has nearly passed, that of the field blend. Almost all have been grubbed up in favor of single varieties. A few glorious acres remain. But could new efforts survive commercially? Financial realities are such that few vineyard owners would be willing to surrender significant acreage of a single variety for a vineyard designation alone. It may be that a given Cali cult Cab contains 25% Syrah and so has virtually no varietal character, but complaints are few. It might be miracle enough if just more Cabernet Franc, Petite Syrah and Petit Verdot were grown!
And so it is we owe a debt of gratitude to winegrowers like Will Bucklin and his family. They have a very fragile bit of California’s viticultural history in the palm of their hand. And that history remains vibrant and alive with every vintage they produce.
I thank Dan Berger for pointing me in the right direction.
Part 2 will appear later this week.
Admin Could you say something of your personal wine history?
Will Bucklin I graduated from UC Davis in the mid-eighties. My interest was not necessarily in wine. I wanted to be an engineer but I had a professor at my community college who was an oenophile. He steered my toward Davis. Upon my graduation I did an internship at Lafite and Bordeaux. I then went off to Australia and did two more internships. I came back to California and worked at Navarro Winery as an assistant winemaker, in ‘87 I think. Then I went to Russian River and worked at a winery. I eventually ended up in Oregon for ten years as the winemaker at King Estate.
And in 1999 my step-father, Otto Teller, who had owned Old Hill Ranch since the 1980s, had passed away. My brother was living on the ranch (we also are a family farm, we raise flowers and vegetables, I use the word ‘weeds’ loosely), he was managing the farm at the time. He was feeling a little overwhelmed. He had the idea of me moving back to California and taking over the Old Hill Ranch, which presented some interesting challenges. My experience was in the winemaking arena, not so much the viticultural arena, but, you know, my family had been in agriculture. I certainly had been exposed to it. It was something I was sure I wanted to do. So it really provided a great opportunity. If there was any one thing I was concerned about it would be the family dynamic which in retrospect has turned out to be not an issue at all. So it’s been a win win situation.
Was it at all difficult giving up engineering? Or did you find some way to apply it?
WB I hadn’t really done much work towards engineering in terms of a degree anyway. I was doing my prerequisites, math and science, all those things which translate easily into winemaking. But I had no problem with that.
How long did it take, how much work was put in before the Old Hill Ranch vineyard was productive enough for harvest?
WB Well, its been making wines for a hundred and twenty years.
Oh! I’d read the notes on the web site that it had become overgrown and that some work was required to clear it.
WB There was a fair amount of work that I guess you could say was required. But it was always, has always been productive. It has not missed a vintage as far as I know. Of course, there’s a lot of history I don’t know but I do know pretty much back the the 1960s. And then, of course, during Prohibition vineyards were, contrary to popular belief, quite lucrative, growing grapes that is, because you could sell them to home winemakers.
And Zinfandel holds pride of place…
WB Definitely, it does. I would say that when my step-father farmed it from 1983 to 1998 we called his style of management ‘benign neglect’. There was and is, I think, a pretty strong argument in favor of that particular style of farming grapes. And you’ll hear winemakers talk all the time about ‘well-placed stress’ to give vineyards and grapes… it helps them with their quality; produce less fruit and focus on ripeness. However, back in those days the average yield from a vineyard was about a quarter of a ton to the acre, which just isn’t sustainable.
A quarter of a ton? So how often were the vines replaced? How many had to be replaced?
WB Yes. There’s been a lot that have died over the years and have been replaced. The vineyard is the oldest in Sonoma according to some historians. And if we think it was planted in the 1880s, that would make it 120 to 130 years old. However, I would say the average age of the vines is somewhere around 70 to 80 years old. As they die they get replaced, of course.
Was the 18th century founder, William McPherson Hill a particularly good record keeper?
WB Not that I am aware of. I would love it that somebody could show me that he was. I do know that he was on some of the local boards, and there are supposedly some records floating around but I don’t have much access. I’ve done quite a bit of research on him at the local library but I’ve taken it as far as it can go. I know that in Berkeley the library has more information, Bancroft. I’ve meant to go down there and do that research.
You know the root stock to primarily St. George. How did you arrive at that understanding?
WB Oh, it’s easy to tell just by looking at it.
Do you still use that root stock for your new replantings?
WB Everything I do is on St. George. There’s a lot of people who were redeveloping a small block of Cabernet that was planted on AXR and it has phylloxera. Everybody wants me to try new root stock and I’m like, ‘Well, hey (laughs) St. George seem to be working well! Why change when things are going well?’ So I think I’m going to stick with St. George.
In my interview with Dan Berger he spent some time discussing the catastrophe AXR turned out to be.
WB Well, the interesting thing is that yes, it was a catastrophe and what I would say…I was at Davis when they discovered the first vineyard that had succumbed or was succumbing to phylloxera. That was ‘85 I think, maybe ‘86. But anyway, the reaction of the farming community was anger and denial, I’d underline anger, especially towards the university. Thirty years later we’re selling some of the most expensive wines in the world out of the Napa Valley and out of Sonoma. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we replanted, we came in with new spacing, new clones; we redeveloped an industry that otherwise wouldn’t have been redeveloped, and I don’t know whether we would have ended up where we are. Maybe that’s just being an optimist, which I’m not usually accused of, but it is pretty hard to imagine that people would have voluntarily started replanting when they did and come up with where our industry is now, one of the most expensive regions in the world.
As far as your field blend in concerned, does the vineyard manager, I would imagine that would be you, does it require a very special expertise because of the many different varieties, an understanding of different trellising techniques, pruning methods specific to a given variety? Do you have to expert in a variety of grapes to properly work the field?
WB Well, I don’t know whether I can answer that simply. Have you seen the vineyard map?
Yes, I have.
WB Ok. So you understand that each one of those pixels is one vine and different varieties. Before I made that map I would say the vineyard was managed adequately well, without any real knowledge of the variables, the variations in the varieties. And I also would think, actually I know this from my heart that the vineyard was not planted as a field blend that could be managed as a bunch of different varieties. A field blend is planted to be managed as a single entity. The wine is supposed to be a single entity, and it’s supposed to be just that vineyard. I’m going to back up and come back and answer your question.
We’re not supposed to take it too seriously and go out and manage the Grenache differently than the Zinfandel. That really undermines the concept of one vineyard with many different varieties all harvested together and fermented together, that’s important, co-fermented, and then bottled with the name of the vineyard. This was, of course, planted at a time when varietal wines were not heard of. That didn’t happen until the 1970s that people started calling wines by varietal. So, most wines back at the turn of the century were clarets or whatever they wanted to call them, but they were blends. I try to look at the vineyard as a unit, not as a blend of a bunch of different varietals because that’s not what I’m supposed to do.
Having said that, when I made the map of course I had to learn what all the varieties are which took me several years to identify. Now that I know there are things that I do consciously and subconsciously that do differentiate between the varieties but if I have a goal my goal is to make wine as closely as possible to how the founders intended it to be made, at least what I believe the founders intended, again, to be one wine, one vineyard.
One thing I would like to do that I don’t currently do is to call the wine ‘Old Hill Ranch’, and not call it ‘Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel’ because it really is not a Zinfandel in the sense that, ok maybe it’s 75% Zinfandel, but it is really not Zinfandel, it’s a cousin more than a brother. You know, if you come to the vineyard and walk through it there’s all the different varieties. Again, I try to blend everything and co-ferment.
We do one thing which is somewhat mandated by our contractual agreement with Ravenswood which is that we harvest on two separate dates. The first harvest is of the early ripeners, the second, the later ripeners. It’s not what I want to do. I don’t agree with that. I think what makes sense is to do it the way the founder did it which is to harvest it all at once and make a wine out of it. I mean, we get so caught up in how wine is supposed to be made these days that there is a big homogenization of wine, with very little of what I would call individuality. My really good fortune is that we have a very compelling story and a very compelling vineyard. I try to focus on that.
The first pass would harvest what varieties? And the second…?
WB The first pass is primarily Zinfandel. The second pass is pretty much everything else.
And when one vine dies or radically underperforms do you replace it with the same variety?
WB Generally, no. I don’t necessarily have it monitored down to that level of accuracy. It’s has to do with how I feel.
I see. So the blend is constantly shifting in however small a way…
WB Over the lifetime of the vineyard it has probably changed a lot. I don’t think it changes much on a decade basis, I’m sure it doesn’t. But maybe every twenty-five years you might find some variation.
Do you think the grape diversity has any effect on the pest load or the kinds of ailments you see in the vineyard?
WB I do. We’re organic, certified organic. We’ve been farming the vineyard organically since ‘84 or ‘83, since we purchased it, whenever that was, ‘83. We’ve never had the need for trapping or killing or anything. I got rodents, and rabbits, and deer, and coyotes, and raccoons… everything kinda’ seems in balance. You know, or leafhoppers and mites, we have all the pests but no major outbreaks. Never had one, knock on wood. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a lot of diversity in the vineyard, there’s a lot of wildlife, we have a lot of owls. We have alot of prey and predators. It feels like it’s in balance.
And it’s not an ecosystem, it’s too small, but it’s probably part of an ecosystem. I was out there working last week and we use a cover crop for the soil fertility. It’s pretty tall. When you’re driving a tractor through it the top of the cover crop is almost encompassing you. You don’t have a lot of visibility around you except down. I see lots of gophers. They’re all scurrying because I’m coming through. I’m thinking to myself, “Boy, that’s a lot of gophers.” But, you know, I’ve never trapped them. Everybody says I should. They just seem to stay relatively balanced. There’s never too many. There’s never none. And they do inflict damage. I don’t know… It’s pretty cool!
We do have a deer fence. That was one thing we did, but we don’t have it on all sides. We did put up one barrier. We’re right next to the park and there was just a lot of deer coming in. So we put in one stretch of deer fence, that helps reduce the number of deer in the vineyard. But they’ll get in, and we deal…
And yes, there is a lot of other diversity in the vineyard besides the vineyard. There are a lot of plants that grow, a very well-populated riparian zone, throughout the vineyard we try to keep the native plants flourishing, we plant a lot of flowers and keep the insect populations healthy.
We do everything we can to slow water down. We dry farm which means we don’t irrigate, at least in the old block. The young blocks get irrigation. But our farming style is to keep water in the vineyard as long as possible, slow it down, not speed it up.
End of Part 1
I am going on a cruise, but not just any cruise. This one will not be made up of days of shuffleboard, too many Mai Tais and rebuffed poolside seductions. No. This is a cruise of the most novel kind: The wine industry’s very first Grand Tasting on the high seas. But it is much more than that. One would expect nothing less from wine impresario, Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV.
First a little background. Readers of this blog may well remember my post on the Second Annual Fort Mason Event hosted by yours truly and another writer for this blog, Brandon Miller. With Mr. Vaynerchuk in attendance, that event was a gathering of friends and wine lovers generally, a quasi-public celebration of our collective wine journey with the gentleman. But what was most remarkable about the evening, beyond the strengthened friendships, was the extraordinary, unanticipated show of generosity by Mr. Vaynerchuk as the evening neared its finish. As recounted in the previous story, he was to give away, through an impromptu lottery, an extraordinary variety of gifts he generated on the spot. Thousands of dollars worth of wine, airplane tickets, an elaborate tail-gate party, a back stage pass to one of his many national interviews, the list of prizes went on and on, all given away on the spot. I’d never seen such a display, and neither had the folks in attendance.
One of the prizes was a passage for two on the ‘Thunder Cruise’ described by Mr. Vaynerchuk (with characteristic modesty) as “The Greatest Floating Wine Festival In History” and “The Mother of All Wine Tastings”. (I think he’s right!)
And Brandon Miller won this prize. He and his lovely wife, Denyce, however, were unable to attended. Instead, Brandon gave the prize to me, a wonderful gesture I still marvel at today.
Now, I have no commercial relationship with Mr. Vaynerchuk. His is a friendship begun well before this blog, a friendship I greatly enjoy.
In any event, this is the first of a series of posts on my adventures on the high seas from April 18th through the 25th. Much more later.
For now please enjoy perusing the list of wines on offer for the Grand Tasting, a list provided by WL. Bon Voyage!
1 Argentina I
Navarrita Chardonnay 2006
Navarrita Malbec 2006
Bodegas Monteviejo Monteviejo 2004
Bodega Monteviejo Lindaflor Malbec 2003
Bodegas Poesia, Poesia 2002
Bodegas Poesia, Poesia 2003
Bodegas Poesia, Poesia 2004
Bodegas Poesia, Poesia 2005
2 Argentina II – Vino del Sol
Melipal Rosé 2008
Zolo Torrontés 2008
Tapiz Chard 2008
Melipal Res Malbec 2006
Preludio Temp 2007
Tapiz Merlot 2007
Ksana Bonarda 2006
Ksana Malbec 2007
Camino del Inca “Quipu Blend” 2007
3 Chile, Argentina, and International Values
Cantus Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Cantus Carmenere 2007
Cantus Chardonnay 2007
Cantus Merlot 2007
Cantus Pinot Noir 2007
Swaii Chardonnay 2007
Swaii Merlot 2007
Domaine Mathes Wormeldange Wousselt Riesling GC 2006
Ben Marco Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
4 France – Rhone / Languedoc / Beaujolais
Chateau Puech-Haut Clos du Pic 2004
Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige Rouge 2004
Chateau La Negly, La Cote 2005
Mas de la Barben Calices 2003
Gibalaux Bonnet Unfilter Minervois 2005
Leocadie Les Clauses 2007
Leocadie Leukadios 2007
Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge 2006
Eric Texier Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge 2006
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Rose 2007
Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacquest Moulin a Vent 2006
5 Portugal I
Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro 2006
Cortes de Cima Riserva 2003
VT Douro Red 2005
Lemos and van Zeller Dona Maria 2005
Fojo Douro 2000
Quinta de Cabriz Reserva Red (Dao)
Quinta das Tecedeira Reserva (Douro)
Conde do Vimioso Reserva (Ribatejo)
Quinta da Mimosa (Palmela)
6 Portugal II
Herdade do Esporao 2007
Vinha da Defesa Red 2007
Vinha de Defesa White 2007
Esporao Reserva Red 2005
Esporao Reserva White 2007
Esporao Private Selection White 2007
Esporao Private Selection Red 2003
Chryseia Douro 2005
7 Spain I – Classic Wines
San Roman Toro 2004
Elias Mora Crianza 2005
Quiteria Loma Gorda 2006
Vega Escal Priorat 2005
El Molinet Valencia 2007
Conde de Subirats Cava Brut
Conde de Subirats Cava Rose
Black Pig Albarino 2008
Black Pig Ribera Del Duero 2007
Valdelainos Rueda 2008
8 Spain II
El Hada Rueda 2008
Marco Real Garnacha 2005
Bodegas Artadi Viñas de Gain Rioja 2006
Pico Madama 2005
Papa Luna 2006
Chivite Gran Feudo Rose 2007
Abadia Tetuerta Rivola 2004
9 Washington State (and friends)
Pomum Cellars Shya Red Blend 2006
Pomum Cellars Tinto 2006
Pomum Cellars Syrah 2006
Alder Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Goose Ridge Vineyards “Vireo” Red Wine 2004
Ex Libris Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Wild Oak Chardonnay 2006
Wild Oak Merlot 2005
Wild Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
De Tierra Merlot 2004
10 California I – Rodney Strong, Simi, Estancia, Franciscan, Benziger
Rodney Strong Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2006
Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2006
Estancia Meritage 2006
Estancia Reserve Chardonnay 2006
Simi Russian River Chardonnay 2006
Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Franciscan Magnificat 2005
Benziger Sauvignon Blanc 2007
11 California II – Raymond, St Francis, and more
Raymond Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Raymond Vineyards Chardonnay 2007
Raymond Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir 2006
Foley Estates Pinot Noir 2007
St Francis Chardonnay 2006
St Francis Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
St Francis Merlot 2005
St Francis Old Vine Zinfandel 2006
St Francis Red 2004
12 California III Zins and more from Neal Family, Frank Family, Starry Night
Neal Family Napa Zinfandel 2007
Neal Family Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon Fifteen-Forty Vineyard 2004
Frank Family Napa Chardonnay 2007
Frank Family Napa Zinfandel 2006
Frank Family Napa Cabernet 2005
Starry Night Russian River Chardonnay 2007
Starry Night Sauvignon Blanc Napa 2007
Starry Night Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007
Starry Night Old Vine Zinfandel Russian River Montafi Vineyard 2006
Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel 2007
13 California IV – Tensley, Kunde Family, Pessagno
Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah 2007
Tensley Blanc “Camp 4 Vineyard” 2007
Tensley Three Creek Syrah 2006
Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Kunde Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Kunde Syrah 2004
Pessagno Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay 2006
Pessagno Central Ave Pinot 2006
Pessagno Four Boys Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005
14 California V – Halleck, Daniel Gehrs
Halleck Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir 2006
Halleck Hallberg Pinot Noir 2006
Halleck The Farm Pinot Noir 2006
Halleck Clone 828 Pinot Noir 2006
Halleck Dry Gewurztraminer 2007
Halleck Little Sister Sauv Blanc 2006
Daniel Gehrs Chenin Blanc 2005
Daniel Gehrs Chardonnay Unoaked 2005
Daniel Gehrs Riesling 2007
Daniel Gehrs Gewurztraminer 2008
Daniel Gehrs Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Daniel Gehrs Syrah 2005
15 California VI – Napa Wines from Coniglio, Mouton Noir, White Rock, Kelly Fleming
Coniglio Cabernet Franc 2005
Coniglio Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Coniglio Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Mouton Noir Wines Montgomery Place Red 2006
Mouton Noir Wines Thief in Law 2006
White Rock Chardonnay 2006
White Rock Claret 2004
White Rock Cabernet “Laureate” 2004
Slingshot Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
16 California VII – Philips Hill, Sojourn, Bouchaine
Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay 2006
Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir 2006
Bouchaine Estate Pinot Noir 2006
Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2007
Sojourn Cellars Gap’s Crown Pinot noir, Sonoma Coast 2007
Philips Hill Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007
Philips Hill Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007
Philips Hill Corby Vineyard inot Pinot Noir 2007
Morgan Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands 2007
17 California VIII- Vina Robles, Donati Family, Match Vineyards
Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Vina Robles Signature 2006
Donati Claret 2005
Donati Family Chardonnay 2006
Donati Family Merlot 2005
Donati Family Sorelle per Sempre 2005
Match Cabernet Sauvignon Butterdragon Hill 2004
Match Cabernet Sauvignon Butterdragon Hill 2005
Match Cabernet Sauvignon Baconbrook 2005
18 California IX – Bonny Doon, Tolosa
Bonny Doon Albarino, ‘Ca’ del Solo’ 2008
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2004
Bonny Doon Syrah Le Pousseur 2005
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2007
Bonny Doon Muscat, ‘Ca’ del Solo’ 2008
Bonny Doon Le Vol des Anges 2007
Tolosa Estate Chardonnay 2006
Tolosa No Oak Chardonnay 2007
Tolosa Estate Pinot Noir 2006
19 Italy I – La Gerla, Orlando Abrigo, Antonello Cassara
La Gerla Brunello 2003
La Gerla Rosso 2005
La Gerla Birba 2003
La Gerla Brunello Riserva 2003
Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Montersino 2004
Orlando Abrigo Barbera D alba Vigna Roreto 2006
Orlando Abrigo Livraie 2001
Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Classico 2004
Antonello Cassara Solcanto Rosso 2007
Antonello Cassara Grillo 2007
Antonello Cassara Kilim 2006
Antonello Cassara Jacaranda 2007
20 Italy II – Ruffino, Geografico
Ruffino Aziano Chianti 2006
Ruffino Modus 2006
Ruffino Libaio 2007
Ruffino Lumina 2007
Ruffino Serrelle Vin Santo 2006
Ruffino Vino Nobile di Montepulicano Lodola Nuova 2001
Greppone Mazzi Brunello Riserva 2001
Geografico Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2007
Geografico Chianti Colli Senesi 2007
Geografico Chianti Classico 2006
Geografico Chianti Classico Riserva Contessa di Radda 2005
21 Italy III – Super Tuscans and More
Col del Sole Prosecco Extra Dry
Vigna Vecchia Chianti Classico 2004
Madonna Alta Sagrantino Montefalco 2004
Caterina Zardini Amarone della Valpolicella 2004
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2005
Argicola Punica Barrua 2004
Sette Ponti Crognolo 2006
Sette Ponti Oreno 2006
Tenuta Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino 2003
Dr. von Basserman-Jordan Riesling QbA 2007, Pfatz
St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett, Ockfener Bockstein 2007, Mosel
Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Spatlese “Grunlack” 2007, Rheingau
Franz Kunstler Estate Riesling Troken 2007
Von Hovel ‘Balduin’ Estate Riesling 2007
Monchhof Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett 2007
Gunderloch Estate Kabinett ‘Jean Baptiste 2007
Dr. F Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2007
Fritz Haag Brauneberger Riesling Auslese GKA 2003
Dr. Loosen Riesling 2007
Dr. Loosen Estate Kabinett “Blue Slate” 2007
Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2006
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2007
Kirsten Riesling Trocken 2007, Mosel
Turkey Flat Rose 2007
Turkey Flat Butchers Block Red 2006
Turkey Flat Shiraz 2006
Turkey Flat The Turk Red 2006
Penfolds Bin 389 Cab / Shiraz 2006
Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2005
Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2007
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet 2007
Rosemount Show Reserve Coonawara Cabernet 2006
Rosemount Show Reserve Mudgee Chardonnay 2007
24 Tasmania and New Zealand
Pirie South Estelle 2006
Pirie South Pinot Noir 2006
Pirie Estate Pinot Noir 2005
Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Craggy Range Te Kahu 2005
Craggy Range Pinot Noir 2006
Wild Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Wild Rock Pinot Noir 2007
25 New Zealand
Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Riesling 2007
Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2007
Mt Difficulty Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Daniel Schuster Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Daniel Schuster Twin Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006/7
Daniel Schuster Omihi Pinot Noir 2006
Selaks Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Selaks Riesling 2006
Selaks Ice Wine 2006
Monarchia Cellars Olivier Matra 2007
Monarchia Winery Chardonnay Eger 2006
Monarchia Winery Pinot Noir Eger 2006
Monarchia Winery Bazilika 2004
Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2000
Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2000
Chateau Henye Tokaji 3 Puttonyos 2000
Chateau Henye Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2003
Chateau Henye Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2000
Prince Tamas Tokaji 5 Puttonyos
Vintage Wine Appellation
1993 Petite Faurie de Soutard Bordeaux
1999 Fugue de Nenin Bordeaux
1999 La Dame de Malescot Bordeaux
1999 Grand Mayne St Emilion
1999 Canon La Gaffeliere St. Emilion
2000 Cissac Haut Medoc
2001 d’Issan Margaux
2001 Cantenac Brown Margaux
2001 Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Leognan rouge
2001 Cabanne Pomerol
2001 La Mondotte St. Emilion
2001 Les Pagodes de Cos St. Estephe
2001 Branaire Duluc Ducru St. Julien
2002 Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Leognan rouge
2003 La Demoiselle d’Haut Peyrat Haut Medoc (Kosher)
2003 Peyrat Fourthon Haut Medoc (Kosher)
2003 Gazin Pomerol
2003 Sansonnet St. Emilion
2004 Cambon Pelouse Bordeaux
2004 La Fleur de Bouard Lalande de Pomerol
2004 Brane Cantenac Margaux
2004 Du Tertre Margaux
2004 Giscours Margaux
2004 Sansonnet St. Emilion
2004 Beychevelle St. Julien
2005 Ch Monestier La Tour “Emily ” Bergerac
2005 Balthus Bordeaux Superieur, Rouge Bordeaux
2005 Bel Air Bordeaux
2005 Bord’Eaux Merlot (BAG IN BOX) Bordeaux
2005 Chateau Birot Bordeaux
2005 Dauphine Bordeaux
2005 Fleur Chantecaille Bordeaux
2005 La Thil Comte Clary Rouge Bordeaux
2005 Plain Point Fronsac
2005 Poitevin Haut Medoc
2005 Franc Maillet Pomerol (Kosher)
2005 Fleur Chantecaille St. Emilion (Kosher)
2005 Quinault St. Emilion (Kosher)
2006 Haut Brisson Classic Cuvee St Emilion
2005 Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc Bordeaux
2005 Reignac Bordeaux Superieur, Blanc Bordeaux
2005 Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc
2005 Reignac Bordeaux Superieur, Blanc
2003 Doisy Vedrines Sauternes
2001 Guiraud Sauternes
2001 Petit Vedrines Sauternes
As a regular reader of U.K. wine magazine Decanter I was pleasantly surprised to see a short article by Gary Vaynerchuk in the April ’09 edition (available in mid-March).
I can’t recall ever seeing his name discussed before in this pillar of the British wine establishment but all of a sudden there he is in print with a flattering picture at the top of the column. On the downside they did spell his name wrong (it’s ‘chuk, not ‘chuck) and the article finishes with an editors comment “He also owns a wine shop in New Jersey” which, while factually correct, does tend to make him sound like a small shopkeeper! Still it should be considered a major coup in Gary’s continuing quest for wine media domination!
As for the article, which raised a small discussion on the WLTV forum, it was on the likely outcome of the current financial woes on American wine drinkers.
When it comes to buying wine in the U.K. Gary’s optimistic U.S. predictions may not hold true. The weakening pound (currently €1.1 but recently it went down as low as €1.0) and government tax hikes suggest prices will not fall much, if at all, although retailers struggling to hold onto market share may absorb some of the increases themselves to remain competitive. This was the subject of 2 major pieces in the same Decanter issue by Margaret Rand and Steven Spurrier, subtitled “Surviving the crunch”.
I have been lucky enough so far to have been unaffected by any direct effects of the Global financial crisis, other than reading in the news about the latest round of job cuts or seeing another small (sometimes not so small) business closing down on the high street. The company that pays my salary still has money in the bank and products to sell, and one of those saw me fly to Israel at the beginning of the month for a week in the small city of Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, where I stayed in an excellent guest house called “Casa Vital”.
A bottle of Ramim 2006 Merlot kept me going over 3 evenings there, unfortunately it was corked – not enough to be undrinkable, but sufficient to lessen the enjoyment and really only continuing on with for the alcoholic warming effect. It was down to a bottle of Yarden 2008 Gewürztraminer to provide some home-grown enjoyment during a fantastic meal at Idi Seafood restaurant in Ashdod. I plan on detailing that in a separate restaurant review shortly.
The final night’s stay was with my friend Yaron at his house where we sat down for a Shabbat meal with his family (not the first time I’ve been honoured as a guest at such a personal celebration). I brought a bottle from my cellar for the occasion, a Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, “Les Dames Huguettes” 2002 from Domaine Bertagna. This was a delicate, aged Pinot Noir with plenty of acidity for the hearty food and just holding onto some earthy aspects, nearly at the end of its drinking window but with enough life left to toast a pleasant evening.
At home drinking was minimal, only four bottles were opened, but they were all enjoyable. 3 easy drinkers were a Verdejo from Rueda (the Villa Narcisa 2006 from Javier Sanz), a crisp, dry Alsace Riesling (the Becht 2004 Lieu-dit Stierkopf) and a supermarket favourite, Lindemans 2007 Bin 50 Shiraz (which was better than I’d expected for a “big brand” – I admit I can be too snobby sometimes).
However the best was a 4 star Amarone purchased at the knock-down price of £9.99 from discount supermarket Aldi. The Trave 2001 (I’ve tried to find a producer web-site without success) was bought in March 2006 and I’d drank its sibling the same year, noting its strong tannins & alcohol burn and scoring it an 88 (hereafter referred to as a 3+). The extra years of bottle age worked wonders; it was a dark, brick red on the swirl with liquorice, menthol and cherry wood on the nose, with some mocha. Very smooth in the mouth, its fine tannins moved into a bitter mid-palate with little fruit, but a wonderful mix of secondary flavours including coffee and chocolate. The finish was long, initially a touch unbalanced, but recovering and continuing with a little heat at the end. Apart from that brief moment of imbalance between mid-palate and finish this was a complex and elegant wine at a bargain price, one of the better purchases I’ve made at Aldi.
The monthly purchases were similarly sparse, a new all-time low of 3 bottles (I’m not exactly sure why so few, typically I’d buy 8-10 in the same time period – maybe I am unconsciously responding to the recession?). The sole red was an Israeli bring-home, the Shel Segal 2008 (generic dry red blend, and it was a gift as well, so you could say I only bought 2 last month…. shocking!). For a fast-drinking white it was the Villa Antinori 2007 Toscana IGT, a mongrel blend of 70% Trebbiano & Malvasia / 30% Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco & Pinot Grigio for £8 and bought more for the curiosity of how so many grapes will taste together!
My splash-out purchase for the month sees another Riesling enter the cellar, the Trimbach Cuvée Frederic Emile 2000 Riesling. I’ve read good reviews for both the producer and this vintage in particular, so was happy enough to make this my most expensive white purchase ever – time will tell if it was worth it.
Wrapping up, I did manage to finish Hugh Johnson’s “A Life Uncorked”, so expect a review of that soon. I’m in the process of building a new PC (my current computer never fully recovered from a problem at the end of February) so the writing may take backseat again until that’s finished, but, if nothing else, there’ll be another Greybeard’s Corner in a month covering April. Until then Happy Easter,
While at a group of wineries in Santa Cruz this Sunday I asked a number of randomly selected folks the single question: What was your worst tasting room experience? Nothing was particularly ’scientific’ about my method, obviously, or definitive about the responses I received. What was remarkable, however, was that the stories offered were spoken immediately, without hesitation. The names of the wineries were not solicited, though they were often volunteered, such was the sting of recollection. Customers develop very strong opinions and they hold onto them long after the poor experience has passed. They might not be able to recall their best experience but their worst is very near the surface.
Surprisingly, the first series of people spoke of tasting room difficulties in an equal number of California wine regions.
Below is a representative sample of complaints. It is important to note that two couples had no discouraging words at all.
Jennifer said, “About a year ago, a little more, late fall, it was a crowded tasting room. And we walked in and immediately felt we were the red-headed step-child. We felt looked at, treated like we didn’t count. We were pretty much ignored. The tasting room was not particularly fancy. It was awful being treated like dirt. (laughs) The wine was ok. We were dressed like everybody else. We might have looked a little younger than some of the other people who were there. It felt like we weren’t important. I would have walked out of there with a couple of bottles more. We did end up buying one or two only because we couldn’t help ourselves. But I would have walked out with more had they treated me better. And they didn’t! (laughs)”
Jeremy said, “It was our very first time. We were in Napa for our first anniversary. We decided to do a cycling tour of Napa and wine tasting along the way. So we pull up to the very first place. Of course, we were in lycra. It was a fancy smancy place and we were very intimidated, very inappropriately dressed, I think, for them. So we go in. I was so afraid that I don’t remember what the wines tasted like at all! And when we left I forgot, for whatever reason, to hook up my wife’s brakes on her bike. And so as we were going down the hill from the top of the winery to the road all of a sudden a shriek lets out. I realized what I had neglected to do. (laughs) Luckily she was able to stop! The rest of the trip went fabulously well. A very rough beginning!”
Monica said, “What I don’t like is a cold, blank, deserted, unfriendly room. It is not enjoyable at all. I like a place that’s fun, has a good atmosphere, good vibes, a lot of fun people, that makes all the difference. Obviously their wines should be of a certain potential and a certain temperature. The whites shouldn’t be too cold. You need people who pour to be knowledgeable, they have to be interested in the wine. When they tell you about the food the wine pairs with, it makes you happy. If they say they have recipes they can provide you with that go well with a wine, that makes people want to buy the wine.”
Laina said, “No names? O.K. The staff was just extremely rude. We walked out without even tasting anything. We had been there plenty of times, [...] up in Apple Hill, past Placerville. We go up there every Fall, every Thanksgiving weekend and we cut down our Christmas tree there. We walked in. We stood around. We waited and waited and waited. They looked at us a couple times and then just went on with the people already there. So we, after 10 minutes, we turned around and walked out. We’ve only been back once to show a friend. That’s about the only bad thing… and we don’t care for the Napa area. They’re all so snooty.”
Kira said, “A big winery in Napa that began with a ‘B’. (laughs) I didn’t care for the attitude. It was a little too much for me. So I walked out. Here and Paso Robles is great.”
Terry said, “Paso Robles is very enjoyable, to go down there and taste wine. It’s very laid back. But in the Santa Inez Valley things have changed since “The Movie”. Now you have to pay for tastings. We never paid for tastings before Sideways. Now you have to, especially at the wineries that were in the movie. [One winery] charges $8 to $10 a person! And only in some of them do you get your money back if you buy something. I don’t think that’s right.”
Diana said, “Being at a winery where they would not let us purchase the wine they were having us taste because we were not members of the wine club. We asked if they would ship it to us, so they asked us for our zip code. They said that since we were local so they would ship it, but had we been from a place they couldn’t ship to they would sell us a bottle. It was a little frustrating!”
I am pleased to present the balance of my interview with Dan Berger. He is an interesting fellow, easy to speak with, very well-informed, but always ready to cite a more thorough, better informed source. It is the teacher in him. It is always about getting the best, most complete answer.
Part 1 may be found here.
For more about the gentleman see his fine work on Appellation America and subscribe to his newsletter, Dan Berger’s Vintage Experiences.
Admin What do you think of the attempt to organize tastings into quasi-scientific events?
Dan Berger I wrote an article about twenty years ago in which I tried to explain the justification for blind tasting as well as tasting in sight of the label. I think you can define both as valid. But I think that you have to do the blind tasting without sufficient information to create an evaluation that is tilted. An example of that would be to say ‘I’m going to taste today only $10 a bottle Chardonnays’. Well, I think that’s too much information for a blind tasting because once you know the wines are all the same price, or a similar price, and you know what that price is then you start to pre-judge. Once you’ve pre-judged, to a certain degree the tasting is no longer blind.
I think when you do a blind tasting you have to have only the barest amount of information. But I think it’s also valid to then adjust scores after sight of the label if it’s related to terroir, if it’s related to vintage, if it is related to something the consumer is going to to know when they see the wine on the shelf, if when they buy it and take it home, they’re already going to know something about it. When you do a blind tasting and all you do is put down raw scores and then publish those results you haven’t given the wine a fair evaluation.
It’s one thing, for example, for a California wine evaluator who not to long ago gave a wine a score of 58… what he did, I am guessing but I’m pretty sure I am right, was he pulled the cork, poured the wine into a glass, took one sniff and immediately discarded the wine as being spoiled. Well, I did exactly the same thing. I pulled the cork, smelled it and it was showing off a characteristic that winemakers know of very readily, and it’s the residual effect of sulphur dioxide. Once that wine had a chance to sit around for a 10 minutes, and once I could see what was happening, I decanted the wine and the wine was brilliant! The wine in question was the 2004 Clos Du Val Cabernet. Now, I think it was completely unfair for that evaluator to judge the wine with a single sniff, a single sip and not going back to the wine. Wine evaluation is a process, it is not a single, quick overview. When you do that you don’t serve the consumer or the winemaker.
Of terroir and tasting protocols, are they part of your professional-level courses you teach?
DB I teach at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Most of the students will be going on to UC Davis. What ends up happening in my classes is that I will on a weekly basis, I’ll pull a bottle or two or three out of my cellar from mature stock that goes along with the young wine that we will have for showing off youthful characteristics of the certain varietals. What we do is to illustrate why aging is or is not appropriate for certain wines. So, the terroir characteristic becomes most important. A good example would be what happens with Sauvignon Blanc.
When you buy a Sauvignon Blanc that says Dry Creek Valley on the label and you buy another bottle from a different site, say Alexander Valley, if they are both young wines, less than a year old, then the wines are going to be somewhat similar because they are both wines of youth and freshness. What I occasionally do is pull out a bottle of Dry Creek and a bottle of Alexander Valley that is three or four years old and I pour them after I pour the young ones to show that the terroir characteristics are really, really different. And the reason is that the terroir characteristics do not show themselves until after the wine has been open for a while. And it’s not that there’s no identifiability when the wine is young. There is. But it is so clear after a few years in the bottle.
I know of winemakers who believe very strongly that Sauvignon Blanc is one of those varieties that need time in the bottle. Now, there are a lot of winemakers who don’t. They make the wine to drink now, and all you do is wait for the next vintage. But I think Sauvignon Blanc is an under-performing wine because of the fact so much of it is consumed so young. I think it’s best when it is consumed with a little bit of bottle age.
With your teaching, do you try inoculate student against UC Davis’ arguably excessive interest in technology and intervention within the winery itself?
DB Let’s first of all look at what Davis’ plusses and minuses are. Davis is one of the greatest wine institutions in the world. Is it the greatest? You could make a case that it is probably the greatest in the United States. I have my opinions. i think, for example, that Roseworthy Academy in Australia is a much more complete wine education. I say that after having been to Australia 16 times. On the other side of it is the fact that Davis does not a very rigorous sensory evaluation program, certainly nothing like they have in Europe, nothing like they have at Roseworthy, nothing like they have in a number of other countries. Having said that, that does not mean Davis does not do its job. It doesn’t have the resources to do it the way it is done in other countries. Why that is is very complicated and I don’t want to go into it.
But Davis is doing something that is very, very vital to winemaking, and it is really unfortunate that Davis has been attacked by people who don’t know what is going on. The first thing to remember is that Davis’ responsibility is to educate students in how wine wine is made. That means, from a practical point of view, how do you get something into the bottle that’s not spoiled? Step number one. We’re [Davis] not asking these young winemakers to go out and make Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti every time they pick Pinot Noir. In fact, Davis’ main responsibility is something that is carries out with a great degree of skill: teaching winemakers how to avoid some of the worst problems that they can run into.
Now, what often happens, I think, is that winemakers then criticize Davis for what they say is hamstringing their abilities to make classic wine. Well, that’s ridiculous! [Wine] chemistry hasn’t changed very much since Louis Pasteur’s day. In fact, it’s changed not at all. Chemistry is the same thing. And what wine is about is chemistry microbiology. If you don’t know those disciplines extremely well and how they apply to wine grapes then you’re not going to be properly skilled in the making of stable wine.
So, Davis’ responsibilities have been carried out, I think, with utter responsibility. And I am really disappointed when people criticize what Davis has done without understanding what the real dynamics are that cause Davis to not be as great an institution as it could be if it had the funding.
Are you talking about staff in particular?
DB Well, staff is one thing. Going for a year or two without a staff enologist is not a good thing to do, but where is the funding coming from? If Davis is going to pursue the most appropriate path for wine education in the United States then it’s going to have to do so with the knowledge that there is plenty of money to do that job. I have heard of winemakers in the last two or three years say that from a practical point of view Fresno State is a better winemaking institution. Well, that’s a good jumping off point, so to speak. Dick Arrowwood got his degree at Fresno State. I think everybody would agree Dick Arrowwood is a great winemaker. But that is not to say that you can’t become a great winemaker having gone to Davis. Davis has turned out literally dozens of great, great winemakers in California. Dan Baron at Silver Oak, he was in a class with Cathy Corison, and Randall Grahm, on and on. We’re talking about some very, very talented people here.
The very best winemakers in California are people who do not simply take UC Davis’ responsibilities and trash them. These are people who have been respectful. If they have a difference of opinion to a particular style of wine, that’s one thing. Styles change, times change. And the grape-growing culture has changed.
One thing that has for sure occurred in the last decade or so is that it has become absolutely evident that one of the most profound impacts on the California wine industry in the last twenty-five years was the result of phylloxera. But it wasn’t what phylloxera did but what it led to. And that was inexact planting. When UC Davis, and alot of people criticized Davis for this, when they encouraged the use of XR 1, the rootstock of choice, then phylloxera infected the vineyard. That is a secondary issue. What actually took place when phylloxera hit was that everybody said, ‘Well, it’s gong to be very expensive, something we have to deal with. But we my come out of this beneficially is we replant very carefully. Fine and dandy. The problem that we faced right after phylloxera actually hit was that a lot of people were making decisions on replants that I think were totally ridiculous. And a lot of the decisions to fix the problem were just as bad as the problem itself.
Davis was not directly involved in these bad decisions. They were trying as best they could, as far as I know, to make certain that people were conservative in the way they approached the problem. Since, say, 1988-90 there have been, what I consider to be, some of the most ridiculous decision-making that has led California to a place where the wines are not showing either terroir or balance. The consumer is mystified; a lot of the consumers I know are perfectly happy buying some of these wines but they really don’t understand what’s happening. One thing that going to happen is it will eventually backfire on the industry. It’s already beginning to happen.
It’s very complicated and I don’t want to go into all the details. But one thing for sure I can tell you is that a huge percentage of the vineyards were replanted on vertical shoot-positioned vines (VSP). The trellising system that was selected was vertical shoot-positioning; it has its place, there is no question. But should it have been in 90% of California? Site to site, VSP is probably fine. But there are plenty of sites where it does not work. All you end up is a solar panel, these leaves being splayed out over wires. The fruit is left dangling below, direct sunlight is hitting them, the ’solar panels’ are sugar machines. All you’re doing is generating high, high sugars. Some of the wines I’m seeing over the last decade or so are just outrageous in terms of how the sugar is being produced. The result is you don’t have any structural integrity to the wine. I think that’s detrimental to the winery although there will be plenty of people who will say, ‘Well, you know, the wine’s going to sell’. OK. Fine. Is that your notion of what success is? I think there’s probably other ways of determining what successful wine-making is.
With respect to VSP, canopy management and the consequent new wine ’style’, if I may call it that, what subtler part might climate change play in some vineyards?
DB I don’t think the effects of climate change have impacted the wine industry in California to any great degree at this point, certainly not the way it has affected the Australian industry.
I know that harvesting dates has moved up as much a two weeks in some areas…
DB That’s certainly one effect but I’m not entirely sure that’s a result necessarily of global climate change. I suspect there’s some but not necessarily a direct result. I can tell you one reason why. Scientists now have determined that for the next decade or so, through about 2015 at least, Napa and Sonoma are actually going to be marginally cooler because of a curious effect of how the Central San Joachin Valley is actually hotter, therefore that is going to have the effect of drawing marine air into Napa and Sonoma, a little more aggressively over the next six to ten years. They will be cooler. The question, obviously, is about the long term. We aren’t entirely sure, although we can see the projections. We do see a rapid increase in glacial development in the North and South Poles over the last 12 months. Does that effect global warming? Is global warming actual? Does it have dynamics that we are unaware of? So, a lot of information still has to be processed by scientists. I’m not prepared to make any broad generalizations because I’m not a scientist.
I can say, with respect to the other part of your question about trellising and canopy management, I think canopy management is probably the most vital tactic that could be employed in vineyards throughout California as long as trellising systems are not going to be radically changed from where they are now. If you’ve got a VSP and manage it, that’s fine. I talked to a winemaker not too long ago who said, “The stupidest thing I ever did was put in VSP”. And I said can I quote you? “Absolutely not!” (laughs) And then I asked, “Well, then why did you say that”? He said, “Because it put me into a situation where I had no control over the excessive amount of sunlight I was getting on my fruit”. I said, “You have to do something…” He said, “Well, I’ve done some things. I’ve changed the direction of how the vine grows so that some of the canopy is literally allowed to grow out into the row and then I leave some of those canes out there longer so that they create a much larger amount of shade for the fruit”. I said, “It sounds to me like the old California sprawl system going back to the seventies.” And he laughed and said, “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get back to where we were in the ’70s. If I need to fine tune I can go out a prune back leaves.” “But isn’t that labor-intensive”? I asked him. He said, “The main reason we were sold on VSP to begin with was the fact that it was inexpensive. Now I realize that there is no free lunch. To make fine wine you’ve got to spend some time out in the vineyard. There’s an old saying, the best fertilizer for a vineyard are the footprints of the winemaker”. So the answer is yes, trellising is critical, canopy management is critical.
It comes down to how much passion do you have for making great wine. An example: about four years ago there was hang-time conference that was help in Napa. During that conference, Dr. Richard Smart from New Zealand and now Tasmania, I asked him a question from the audience, “If you had to take a guess what percentage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is under cropped?” Well, he was caught off guard by the question. I’ve known Dr. Smart for a long time and he knew that the question was somewhat loaded. He said if he had to take a guess he would say 95%. That’s a lot of vineyards in the Napa Valley. (Incidentally, the average tonnage of cabernet in the Napa Valley is 3.4 tons per acre.) I asked Dr. Smart later what level of harvested fruit would make the very best wine. He said there is no way of knowing site to site what is the best average tonnage, but it is certain that the smaller the tonnage the better the wine is a ridiculous phrase. He thinks 4.5 tons per acre on average would probably not be any worse than 3.4. So I guess the answer is that if you’ve got 3.4 tons of cabernet growing on your vines and you’ve been educated that this is the best way to make the very best wine then so be it. You’ll never know if your 4.5 would have made you probably better wine, at least the same quality wine. Nobody’s asking these people to increase their tonnages, I’m certainly not, but I think if one of the viticultural masters of this world, Dr. Richard Smart, thinks 4.5 tons per acre is not a detriment in terms of quality then maybe folks might want to listen.
Irrigation must matter. And fertilizer.
DB I can’t imagine that a change in tonnage would not also require a change in irrigation. But again, a lot of this comes back to scientific research that’s been done, and the vast majority has been done by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), and there is no institute like this in the world. I’m a member of the Australian Oenological Society, and I receive the AWRI bulletins. I believe very strongly in what the AWRI has done. I think it is one of the great wine educational institutions in the world. And if the AWRI hasn’t done some research on something then it’s probably not worth doing. (laughs) They are very, very savvy people. They have an analytical service, the have a research service, a development service, it offers an amazing variety of work.
This is where, when Davis is criticized, it amuses me because I know that the wine knowledge, or what passes as wine knowledge for so many winemakers in the United States is somewhat, shall we say, naive based on materials that have already been published for many, many years in Australia. Why we don’t have that information widely available to us is another story I don’t want to get into.
Probably one of the greatest winemaking resources is Dr. Richard Peterson. Dr. Peterson doesn’t even actually make wine anymore but he is a repository of information on wine, techniques that have been developed around the world. He gets his hands on a lot of the Australian material. He’s like a library of winemaking techniques. We tend to forget that because a winemaker is older doesn’t mean they’re out of touch with the current research. In fact, they may be more likely to make a great wine because they have so much life experience.
I’ll give you one example. I was at a Petite Syrah conference about four years ago. I heard a grower get up and say ‘you need to do such and such in your vineyard, otherwise you’re gonna get some red-leaf problems, nutrient deficiencies etc’. It didn’t surprise me to hear it, but I’m not a scientist. So, I’m sitting next to a guy who has been growing Petite Syrah for 25 years, and he said, “Oh my God! Maybe that’s my problem!” The following year I went back and this guy was absolutely adamant. He said, “It worked! It saved my butt. Had I never attended this conference I would have never known that these soil additions were necessary for Petite Syrah.” The reason, partly, is that Petite Syrah is not exactly on the lips of everyone in the world. (laughs) It’s not exactly a commonly produced wine, although there are probably 150 to 200 wineries making it today. It’s not a variety people spend a lot of time worrying about. It doesn’t give you glory to make a good Petite Syrah. That doesn’t mean the scientific knowledge about it shouldn’t be disseminated! But then we get back to the issue of how much money is there? Who’s got the money to get the information out?
So this conference held by the PS I Love You group was tremendous because it gave some of these growers an opportunity to hear from their colleagues. I’ve seen better Petite Syrahs in the last few years than I’ve ever seen. Does that ever come out in the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate? I don’t know. Sixteen percent alcohol seems to get you a high score, we know that, but in terms of the character of these wines that are so much better than they’ve been for many, many years, I think that has gotten overlooked. It’s really too bad. Alot of these winemakers and wineries are working really hard to make great wine from many varieties that were previously under-considered.
Indeed. I would place Petit Verdot very high on that list. I love that grape.
DB Petit Verdot is an incredible variety! So is Cabernet Franc grown in the right soils. What we’re seeing now is more of a refinement in how Viognier made. We’re seeing Tablas Creek doing rather remarkable things with Roussanne. Take a look at some of the unusual wines that Randall Grahm has made out of, for example, Muscat. This is a very exciting time for the California wine industry. It hasn’t been very well revealed because of the fact, I think, some of the best examples of our wines are a result of terroir and varietal prejudice. Imagine a Sauvignon Blanc that gets 95 points. It doesn’t exist, as far as I know. Imagine a Gewurztraminer that gets 95 points. It doesn’t exist, as far as I know. Or how about a dry Riesling getting even as much a 91 points…? It’s pretty risky making these varieties. And yet Wendy Stuckey at Chateau Ste. Michelle, is making some of the best Riesling I have ever tasted from the United States. It’s brilliant wine. And some of them can be purchased for $12. But when the critics, those who put numbers to wines, see the volume produced of these wines they prejudge the score, give them an 88 or an 87. They are absolutely demeaning the efforts that are being made by people like Wendy Stuckey.
One of the things I miss is the ‘field blend’. I buy them where ever I find them.
DB The field blend still has an opportunity. But there is an unfortunate problem with it right now. The field blend that makes the most sense for the grapes doesn’t always make the most sense for the market place. I’ll give you one example, it’s not a very good one but it come to mind. Will Bucklin has more, different grape varieties planted in his vineyard out in the Sonoma Valley than just about any other vineyard in the world. I mean, he’s got literally 200 varieties out there! And if he wanted to make a field blend, a real honest to goodness field blend, that really reflected the character of what he’s got out there he would have to go out there about thirty times to harvest thirty different lots, to make, essentially, thirty mini-wines to finally put a blend together. From a practical point of view that’s just not going to happen.
It is an amazing property. It’s called the Old Hill Vineyard. The Old Hill Vineyard is one of those unbelievably rare examples of California viticulture taken back to the 1880’s.
I have got to get out there!
DB It is amazing! You should see it in the Springtime. In fact, in about a month you’ll be able to go out there and without any question you’ll be able to spot the Grenache because the Grenache sticks out like a sore thumb. It is so aggressive in the way it produces leaves. The leaves just reach for the sky! It’s just dramatic to see. And all the varieties look different. That was the most fun for me. I went out there about three years ago, walked through the vineyard with Will in the Springtime. It is so amazing to see an old California vineyard, and with no particular trellising system at all! A great property!
Well, thank you. It has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you.
DB It’s fun to chat with somebody who has such enthusiasm.
For more on Dan Berger see his fine work on Appellation America and subscribe to his newsletter, Dan Berger’s Vintage Experiences.